Mitchell, Margaret - Gone with the Wind
ALSO BY DONALD MCCAIG
Jacobs Ladder: A Story of Virginia During the War
An American Homeplace
Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men
The Butte Polka
Above all, love each other deeply,
because love covers over a multitude of sins.
—1 Peter 4:8
Affairs of Honor
One hour before sunrise, twelve years before the war, a closed carriage
hurried through the Carolina Low Country. The Ashley River road
was pitch-black except for the coach's sidelights, and fog swirled through
the open windows, moistening the passengers' cheeks and the backs of
"Rhett Butler, damn your cross-grained soul." John Haynes sagged in
"As you like, John." Butler popped the overhead hatch to ask, "Are we
near? I wouldn't wish to keep the gentlemen waiting."
"We comin' down the main trunk now, Master Rhett." Although Hercules
was Rhett's father's racehorse trainer and Broughton's highest-ranking
servant, he'd insisted on driving the young men.
Rhett had warned, "When he learns you've helped, Langston will be
Hercules had stiffened. "Master Rhett, I knowed you when you was
just a child. Was me, Hercules, put you up on your first horse. You and Mr.
Haynes tie your horses behind. I'll be drivin' the rig tonight."
John Haynes's plump cheeks belied his uncommonly determined chin.
His mouth was set in an unhappy line.
Rhett said, "I love these marshes. Hell, I never wanted to be a rice
planter. Langston would go on about rice varieties or negro management
and I'd not hear a word for dreaming about the river." Eyes sparkling, he
leaned toward his friend, "I'd drift through the fog, steering with an oar.
D O N A L D M C C A IG
One morning, I surprised a loggerhead sliding down an otter slide—
sliding for the pure joy of it. John, have you ever seen a loggerhead turtle
"I don't know how many times I tried to slip past a sleeping anhinga
without waking her. But that snaky head would pop from beneath her
wing, sharp-eyed, not groggy in the least, and quick as that"—Rhett
snapped his fingers—"she'd dive. Marsh hens weren't near as wary. Many's
a time I'd drift 'round a bend and hundreds of 'em would explode into
flight. Can you imagine flying through fog like this?"
"You have too much imagination," Rhett's friend said.
"And I've often wondered, John, why you are so cautious. For what
great purpose are you reserving yourself?"
When John Haynes rubbed his spectacles with a damp handkerchief,
he smeared them. "On some other day, I'd be flattered by your concern."
"Oh hell, John, I'm sorry. Fast nerves. Is our powder dry?"
Haynes touched the glossy mahogany box cradled in his lap. "I stoppered
"Hear the whippoorwill?"
The rapid pounding of the horse's hooves, the squeak of harness
leather, Hercules crying, "Pick 'em up, you rascals, pick 'em up," the threenote
song of the whippoorwill. Whippoorwill—hadn't John heard something
about Shad Watling and a whippoorwill?
"I've had a good life," Rhett Buder said.
Since John Haynes believed his friend's life had been a desperate
shambles, he bit his tongue.
"Some good times, some good friends, my beloved little sister, Rosemary
. . ."
"What of Rosemary, Rhett? Without you, what will become of her?"
"You must not ask me that!" Rhett turned to the blank black window.
"For God's sake. If you were in my place, what would you do?"
The words in sturdy John Haynes's mind were, I would not be in your
place, but he couldn't utter them, although they were as true as words have
RHETT BUTLER'S PEOPLE
Rhett's thick black hair was swept back off his forehead; his frock coat
was lined with red silk jacquard, and the hat on the seat beside him was
beaver fur. John's friend was as vital as any man John had ever known, as
alive as wild creatures can be. Shot dead, Rhett Butler would be as emptied
out as a swamp-lion pelt hung up on the fence of the Charleston market.
Rhett said, "I am disgraced already. Whatever happens, I can't be worse
disgraced." His sudden grin flashed. "Won't this give the biddies something
to gossip about?"
"You've managed that a time or two."
"I have. By God, I've given respectable folk a satisfying tut-tut. Who
has served Charleston's finger pointers better than I? Why, John, I have become
the Bogeyman." He intoned solemnly, " 'Child, if you persist in your
wicked ways, you'll end up just like Rhett Butler!' "
"I wish you'd stop joking," John said quietly.
"John, John, John . . ."
"May I speak candidly?"
Rhett raised a dark eyebrow. "I can't prevent you."
"You needn't go through with this. Have Hercules turn 'round—we'll
enjoy a morning ride into town and a good breakfast. Shad Watling is no
gentleman and you needn't fight him. Watling couldn't find one Charleston
gentleman to second him. He pressed some hapless Yankee tourist into service.
"Belle Watling's brother has a right to satisfaction."
"Rhett, for God's sake, Shad's your father's overseer's son. His employee!"
John Haynes waved dismissively. "Offer some monetary compensation. . . ."
He paused, dismayed. "Surely you're not doing this . . . this thing. . . for
"Belle Watling is a better woman than many who condemn her. Forgive
me, John, but you mustn't impugn my motives. Honor must be satisfied:
Shad Watling told lies about me and I have called him out."
John had so much to say, he could hardly talk. "Rhett, if it hadn't been
for West Point. . ."
"My expulsion, you mean? That's merely my latest, most flamboyant
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disgrace." Rhett clamped his friend's arm. "Must I enumerate my disgraces?
More disgraces and failures than . . ." He shook his head wearily. "I am sick
of disgraces. John, should I have asked another to second me?"
"Damn it!" John Haynes cried. "Damn it to hell!"
John Haynes and Rhett Butler had become acquainted at Cathecarte
Puryear's Charleston school. By the time Rhett left for West Point, John
Haynes was established in his father's shipping business. After Rhett's expulsion
and return, Haynes saw his old friend occasionally on the streets of
town. Sometimes Rhett was sober, more often not. It troubled John to see a
man with Rhett's natural grace reeking and slovenly.
John Haynes was one of those young Southerners from good families
who take up the traces of civic virtue as if born to them. John was a St.
Michaels vestryman and the St. Cecilia Society's youngest ball manager.
Though John envied Rhett's spirit, he never accompanied Rhett and his
friends—"Colonel Ravanel's Sports"—on their nightly routs through
Charleston's brothels, gambling hells, and saloons.
Consequently, John had been astonished when Butler came to the wharfside
offices of Haynes & Son seeking John's assistance in an affair of honor.
"But Rhett, your friends? Andrew Ravanel? Henry Kershaw? Edgar
"Ah, but John, you'll be sober."
Few men or women could resist Rhett Butler's what-the-hell grin, and
John Haynes didn't.
Perhaps John was dull. He never heard about amusing scandals until
Charleston society was tiring of them. When John repeated a clever man's
witticism, he invariably misspoke. If Charleston's mothers thought John
Haynes a "good catch," maidens giggled about him behind their fans. But
John Haynes had twice seconded affairs of honor. When duty came knocking,
it found John Haynes at home.
Broughton Plantation's main trunk was a broad earthen dike separating
its rice fields from the Ashley River. The carriage lurched when it quit
the trunk to turn inland.
RHETT BUTLER'S PEOPLE
John Haynes had never felt so helpless. This thing—this ugly, deadly
thing—would go forward whatever he might do. Honor must be satisfied.
It wasn't Hercules driving the team; it was Honor's bony hands on the
lines. It wasn't .40-caliber Happoldt pistols in the mahogany box; it was
Honor—ready to spit reproaches. A tune sang in John's head: "I could not
love thee Cecilia, loved I not honor more"—what a stupid, stupid song!
Shad Watling was the best shot in the Low Country.
They turned into a brushy lane so infrequently traveled that Spanish
moss whisked the carriage roof. Sometimes, Hercules lifted low-hanging
branches so the rig could pass beneath.
With a start, John Haynes recalled the story of Shad Watling and a
"Ah," Rhett mused. "Can you smell it? Marsh perfume: cattails, myrtle,
sea aster, marsh gas, mud. When I was a boy, I'd get in my skiff and disappear
for days, living like a red indian." Rhett's smile faded with his reverie.
"Let me beg one last favor. You know Tunis Bonneau?"
"The free colored seaman?"
"If you see him, ask him if he remembers the day we sailed to Beaufort.
Ask him to pray for my soul."
"A free colored?"
"We were boys on the river together."
Indeterminate gray light was filtering into the carriage. Rhett looked
out. "Ah, we have arrived."
John consulted his pocket hunter. "Sunrise in twenty minutes."
The field of honor was a three-acre pasture edged with gloomy cypresses
and moss-bedecked live oaks. The pasture vanished in the fog, inside
which a voice was crying hoarsely, "Sooey! Soo cow! Soo cow!"
Rhett stepped down from the carriage, chafing his hands. "So. This is
my destination. When I was a boy dreaming of glories awaiting me, I never
dreamed of this."
Cattle bawled inside the fog. "We wouldn't want to shoot a cow." Rhett
stretched. "My father would be furious if we shot one of his cows."
"Rhett. . ."
Rhett Butler laid a hand on John Haynes's shoulder. "I need you this
D O N A L D M C C A IG
morning, John, and I trust you to arrange matters properly. Please spare me
your sound, kindly meant advice."
John swallowed his advice, wishing he hadn't remembered about Shad
Watling and the whippoorwill: After Langston Butler built Broughton's
grand manor house, his overseer, Isaiah Watling, moved his family into the
original Butler home, which was convenient to the rice fields and negro
quarters. Huge live oaks, which had been saplings when the Butlers first arrived
in the Low Country, shaded the small, plain farmhouse.
Nesting in a live oak, that whippoorwill welcomed them from twilight
Apparently, Belle, the Watling girl, thought the bird was seeking a
mate. Her mother, Sarah, said the bird was grieving.
The question of whether the bird was flirting or weeping was mooted
at daybreak, not long after they moved in, when a shot blasted through the
house. When his mother rushed into his bedroom, Shad Watling's smoking
pistol lay on the windowsill. "Fool bird won't rise me up no more," Shad
In poor light at sixty paces, Shad Watling had shot the tiny whippoorwill's
head off its body.
John Haynes asked Rhett, "You've heard about that whippoorwill?"
"Just a yarn, John." Rhett scratched a match on his boot sole.
"Shad Watling has killed before, Rhett."
The match sputtered and flared as Rhett lit his cigar. "But only negroes
and men of his class."
"Do you believe your gentle birth will turn a bullet?"
"Why, yes," Rhett said solemnly. "Hell yes! Gentle birth's got to be
good for something!"
"Comes somebody," Hercules spoke from his elevated seat.
Breathing hard, a young man emerged from the fog. His frock coat was
folded over his arm and his trouser knees were wet where he'd stumbled.
"Darn cows," he confided. He shifted his jacket and offered his hand to
John Haynes, then thought better of it and made an awkward bow instead.
"Tom Jaffery. Amity, Massachusetts. At your service, gentlemen."
RHETT BUTLER'S PEOPLE
"Well, Tom." Rhett smiled. "It seems your Charleston visit will be a
Jaffery was two or three years younger than Rhett and John. "They'll
never believe this in Amity."
"Lurid tales, Tom. Lurid tales are the South's principal export. When
you describe us to your friends, remark the devilishly handsome, gallant
Rhett Butler." Rhett's brow furrowed thoughtfully. "If I were telling the
tale, I wouldn't mention the cows."
"Has your principal arrived?" John asked the young Yankee.
Tom Jaffery gestured at the fog bank. "Watling and that Dr. Ward, too.
They don't care for each other."
John Haynes took the younger man's arm, walking him out of Rhett's
earshot. "Mr. Jaffery, have you seconded these affairs before?"
"No, sir. We don't hardly do this kind of thing in Amity. I mean, my
grandfather might have done it, but nowadays we don't. I'm a novice, so to
speak. My aunt Patience passed to her Heavenly Reward and she bequeathed
me a sum, so I set out to see the country. Tom, I says to myself, if not now,
for goodness' sake, when? So there I was, admiring your Charleston harbor,
which is, if I might say so, every bit the equal of our famous Boston harbor.
Anyway, there I was when Mr. Watling approached me and asked was I a
gentleman, and I said I certainly hoped so. When Mr. Watling asked if I
would second him, I thought, Tom, you've come to see the country, and see
the country you shall. I'll never get a chance like this in Amity."
John Haynes didn't tell the younger man that Shad Watling's choosing
a Yankee stranger to second him was a calculated insult.
"Are you familiar with your duties?"
"We seconds make sure everything happens regular."
John Haynes eyed the young Yankee thoughtfully. "Seeking reconciliation
between the principals is our primary duty," he said with the regret of
the man who has failed that duty.
"Oh, my principal isn't contemplatin' reconciliation. My principal says
he anticipates shootin' Mr. Butler in the heart. He and Mr. Butler are old
D O N A L D M C C A ! G
"It will be light soon. We generally let sunrise be our signal."
"Sunrise suits you, suits us."
"When the sun comes over the horizon, the gentlemen choose their pistols.
As the challenged party, your man chooses first. Shall we load now?"
John Haynes braced the mahogany box on the carriage fender, unlatched
it, and removed a pistol. The sleek knurled butt felt alive in his
hand, as if he'd clutched a water moccasin. "As you see, the pistols are identical.
While you observe, I'll charge one pistol. You will charge the second."
John poured powder, set a round lead ball into an oiled cloth patch,
and rammed it home. He placed a cap under the hammer and eased the
hammer to half cock.
"They'll never believe this back home," Thomas Jaffery said.
The morning gathered light, the fog tore into streamers, and two
ghostly vehicles swam into sight across the meadow: a one-horse
chaise and a mule-drawn farm wagon.
Rhett Butler untied his horse from behind the carriage and pressed his
face against the beast's powerful neck. "You're not frightened, are you,
Tecumseh? Don't be. Nothing's going to hurt you."
"This meadow, John—they grew indigo here in my grandfather's day.
There's a pond in the woods where pintails hatch their young. Muskrats are
fond of young pintails, and sometimes a brood will be paddling along, until
one is pulled under—so swiftly, they don't make a flurry. Our trunk
master, Will, trapped muskrats here."
"Rhett, we seconds will speak with Watling. What apology will you accept?"
Rhett squeezed his eyes shut obstinately. "Shad Watling claims I am father
of his sister's child. I have said Watling is a liar. If Watling admits his
lie, I will withdraw my challenge."
"Will you offer compensation? Money so the girl can go somewhere to
have her baby?"
"If Belle needs money, I will give her money. Money has nothing to do
"As your friend, Rhett. . ."
RHI;TT BUTLER'S I'EOPLI;
"John, John . . ." Rhett muffled his face in Tecumseh's neck. "A friend
would help me finish this thing."
Shadrach Watling's farm wagon was heaped with broken wheels, hubs,
and rims. "Morning, Mr. Jaffery, Mr. Haynes. I see you brung Butler."
"Shad. . ."
"It'll be 'Mr. Watling' today."
"Mr. Watling, I trust we can reach an accommodation."
"B'lieve Butler 'commodated my sister. B'lieve I'll 'commodate him."
"When Rhett Butler treated you as a gentlemen, he complimented
Shad spat. "I'm thinkin' of westering. Goddamn, I'm sick of the Low
Country. Rich bastards and niggers. Niggers and rich bastards. I got cousins
"Wherever you go, you'll want money. If your sister, Belle, were to go
with you, the scandal would die."
Watling chuckled. "Butler offering me money?"
"No, sir. I am."
"All comes down to money, don't it?" Watling spat again.
Shadrach Watling was a beardless, thickset man. "Naw, not this time. I got
a grudge against Buder. Even though Pa whipped Belle good, she never would
say 'twas Rhett topped her. Ain't no nevermind. I'm craving to put a bullet in
Butler. He weren't no 'count as the Young Master and I hear he weren't no
'count as a soldier boy, neither. Butler ain't worth a bootful of warm piss."
Shad Watling eyed the river. "Gonna be light directly. I got four busted
wheels for the wheelwright, and he starts his day early. Bein's I'm the challenged
man, I'll be namin' the distance. Figure fifty paces'll be far enough
for me to hit and him to miss. I wouldn't want be nicked by no stray ball."
His stubby, stained teeth glistened in silent laughter.
Swaddled in thick woolen robes, the surgeon was snoring in his buggy.
When John Haynes tapped his boot toe, Franklin Ward opened his eyes
and yawned. "Ah. Our business . . ." He unbundled, stepped down, and
faced away; the stink of his urine made John Haynes's nose twitch. The
doctor wiped his fingers on his coattails.
D O N A L D M C C A IG
Dr. Ward offered his hand to Rhett, "Ah, the patient, I presume!"
Rhett grinned. "You have appliances for extracting the bullet, Doctor?
"Sir, I studied in Philadelphia."
"Doubtless, Philadelphia is an excellent city to have studied in."
Shad Watling ambled behind, grinning absently and scratching his
"Mr. Butler," Tom Jaffery asked, "why are you removing your shirt?"
"Hold it for me, John? I take off my shirt, my Yankee friend, so the
bullet won't push cloth into the wound."
"Maybe you jest like goin' naked." Shad Watling eyed the slighter man
disdainfully. "Me, I generally don't take off more clothes'n I got to."
"Gentlemen," John Haynes interrupted, "this is a terrible, deadly business
and I must ask again if honor wouldn't be served by Mr. Watling's retraction,
an apology and recompense from Mr. Butler."
Gooseflesh pimpled Rhett's arms in the chilly air.
"Fifty paces," Shad said, "oughta serve. Butler, you remember your nigger
pal, Will? How Will cried for mercy? If n you cry for mercy, maybe I'll
let you off." Watling showed his teeth again. "Let me see them pistols.
Yank, did you watch Mr. Haynes load? Didn't double-charge one of them
pistols, did he? Might have had one charge already in the barrel 'fore he
poured the second charge atop?"
The Yankee was shocked, "Mr. Haynes is a gentleman!"
"He score his bullet? Little ring cut into the bullet so it gobs when it
hits. Inspected his bullet, did you, Yank?"
Young Jaffery repeated, "Mr. Haynes is a gentleman."
"Sure as hell. Sure as hell. Gentleman don't score no bullet, no sir.
Gentlemen won't double-charge no pistol. Now, which of these here pistols
did Mr. Haynes load?"
"I loaded the near pistol," John said.
A horn sounded in the woods, a long exuberant note, like fox hunters
sighting their quarry. Seconds later, moisture streaming off its wheels, an
open landau clattered onto the field. Two young sports stood between its
seats, one with a coach horn at his lips, which he dropped to grab a seat
RHETT BUTLER'S PEOPLE
back, else the stop would have pitched him headlong. "Hallooo! Hallooo!
Have we missed the fun?"
Their elderly driver cackled. "Told you I'd get us here in time," he said.
"Didn't Colonel Jack find these scamps?"
Colonel Ravanel had been a respectable rice planter until his wife,
Frances, was killed. Whether Jack's subsequent dissipation was from grief
or the absence of marital inhibitions was not known. In Charleston, where
gentlemanly drunkenness was only forbidden clergy, Colonel Jack Ravanel
was a drunk. In a city where every gentleman gambled, Jack was banned
from respectable gambling clubs. Jack was a genius with horseflesh, and
horse-mad Charleston forgave him much for that.
John Haynes stepped to the landau. "Gentlemen, this is an affair of
honor. Decorum . . ."
The young men wore short brocade jackets, bright ascots, and pants so
tight, a codpiece was unnecessary. Although Jack Ravanel was old enough
to be the young men's father, he was similarly garbed.
"Country wench gets one in the oven and that's an affair of honor?"
The horn blower sounded a blast. "Whooooa, Johnny Haynes. It's one of
Rhett's damn jokes, that's what it is."
John Haynes bristled. "Henry Kershaw, this is an affront. You are unwelcome
Big Henry Kershaw was reeling. "You mean Cousin Rhett is going
through with this? Damn me, Edgar, I'll settle tomorrow. Rhett, that you?
Ain't you cold? We been drivin' through this damn swamp for hours. Colonel
Jack says he used to own this ground, but he must have been sober at
the time. Edgar Puryear, don't you hog that whiskey!"
Tom Jaffery asked, "Mr. Haynes. Is this regular?"
"You the Yankee we heard about?" Henry Kershaw asked.
"Yes, sir. From Amity, Massachusetts."
"Man can't help where he's born. Say, you ain't one of them damned
abolitionists, are you?"
Rhett Butler silenced John Haynes with a touch and asked in the quietest
voice, "Edgar, Henry, Jack—have you come to see me die?"
Edgar Puryear pasted an apologetic expression on his face. "Jack promised
D O N A L D M C C A IG
this was a lark, Rhett; a lark! He said you'd never fight a man over. . .
over . . ."
"A 'lark,' Jack? If my father discovers your part in this, he'll see you in
"Dear Rhett! Do not speak cruelly to Old Jack!"
"Henry Kershaw is drunk—Henry will do anything when he is drunk.
Edgar Allan has come to watch. Edgar is a great watcher. But what dragged
the aged reprobate out of his whore's warm bed on a cold morning?"
Jack Ravanel's smile was ingratiating. "Why, Rhett, old Jack's come to
help you. I've come to talk sense! We'll all have a friendly drink and recall
happier times. Rhett, have I told you how I admire Tecumseh? By God,
there's a horse!"
For an instant, Rhett was stunned. Then his mouth twitched into a
chuckle, which became a laugh, which became so hearty Rhett bent over
laughing. This laughter infected the sports, who wore smiles on their faces,
and the young Yankee chuckled.
Rhett wiped his eyes. "No, Jack, you shan't have Tecumseh. John, if I
am killed, my horse is yours. Now, Watling. Choose your pistol."
"God Almighty!" Henry Kershaw gaped. "Rhett means to go through
Colonel Jack's eyes narrowed. He lashed his team off the field.
Deep in the woods, a grouse drummed on a hollow log. The huge sun
rose steaming out of the river, restoring yellows, blues, and pale greens to
the land from which fog had exiled them.
John Haynes shut his eyes briefly in a wordless prayer. Then he said,
Shad Watling had lost something to Rhett's great laughter. Something
had got away from him. His prey had tripped the trigger but left the trap
empty. Shad snatched a pistol, examining it as if it might be faulty. " 'Young
Marster' Butler. Christ, how the niggers fawned over you!"
The other long-barreled pistol hung loose in Rhett's hand; his smile
was so big, it traveled down his naked arm to the muzzle, as if the pistol,
too, were smiling.
linEi"I BUTLER'S PEOPLE
In the river morning, a thick, angry man stood back-to-back with a
half-naked, smiling man.
Each would step off twenty-five paces. When the sun cleared the horizon,
John Haynes would give the command to turn and fire.
The duelists stepped off twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five
paces. . . . The sun clung to the horizon.
"They'll never believe this in Amity," Tom Jaffery whispered.
The sun strained upward until a white space opened between its rim and
the riverbank. In a clear voice, John Haynes called, "Gentlemen! Turn! Fire!"
Rhett Buder's hair lifted to a wind gust off the river. Butler pivoted,
presenting a fencer's profile as his pistol rose.
Shad Watling fired first, an explosion of white smoke at the muzzle
when the hammer struck home.
Nine years earlier.
At his father's impatient gesture, Langston Butler's elder son prepared for
his caning. He removed his shirt and folded it over a straight-backed chair.
The boy turned and set his palms flat on his father's desk. The fine
leather surface gave infinitesimally under his weight. He fixed his eyes on
his father's cut-glass inkwell. There can be a world of pain in a cut-glass
inkwell. The first searing blow caught him by surprise. The inkwell was
half-full of blue-black ink. Rhett wondered if this time his father might
not be able to stop. When the boy's sight blurred, the inkwell seemed to
float in a mist of tears.
This time, too, his father did stop.
Hands curled in frustration, Langston Buder hurled his cane to the
floor and shouted, "By God, boy, if you weren't my son, you'd feel the
At twelve years of age, Rhett was already tall. His skin was darker than
his father's and his thick jet black hair hinted at Indian blood.
Although the boy's back was a mosaic of livid stripes, he hadn't begged.
"May I dress, sir?"
"Your brother, Julian, is dutiful. Why must my elder son defy me?"
D O N A L D M C C A I G
"I cannot say, sir."
Langston's office was as spare as Broughton's family quarters were opulent.
The broad desk, a straight-backed chair, inkwell, blotter, and pens
were its entire furnishings. No engravings or paintings hung from the picture
rail. Ten-foot-tall undraped windows offered an unimpeded panorama
of the plantation's endless rice fields.
The boy took his white chambray shirt from the chair and with a just
perceptible wince draped it over his shoulders.
"You refuse to accompany me when the legislature is in session. When
prominent men meet at Broughton, you vanish. Wade Hampton himself
asked why he never sees my elder son."
The boy was mute.
"You will not drive our negroes. You refuse to learn to drive negroes!"
The boy said nothing.
"Indeed, it is safe to say you reject every proper duty of a Carolina gentleman's
son. Sir, you are a renegade." With his handkerchief, Langston wiped
sweat from his pale forehead. "Do you think I relish these punishments?"
"I cannot say, sir."
"Your brother, Julian, is dutiful. Julian obeys me. Why won't you obey?"
"I cannot say, sir."
"You cannot say! You will not! Nor will you accompany your family to
Charleston. Instead, you swear you'll run away."
"Yes, sir, I will."
The angry father stared into the boy's eyes for a long time. "Then, by
God, let the fevers have you!"
Next morning, the Butler family departed for their Charleston town
house without their elder son. That night, Dollie, the colored midwife,
rubbed salve into the welts on the boy's arm. "Master Langston, he a hard
man," she said.
"I hate Charleston," Rhett said.
On the river plantations, the rice seed was clayed and planted in April
and trunk gates were opened for the sprout flow. The rice would be
flooded three more times before harvest in September. Maintenance and
RHF.TT BUTLER'S PEOPLE
operation of the great and lesser trunk gates were so vital to the crop that
Will, Broughton Plantation's trunk master, ranked in the slave hierarchy
second only to Hercules.
Although Will obeyed Master Langston and Isaiah Watling, he obeyed
no other man, including Shad Watling, the overseer's twenty-year-old son.
Will had a cabin to himself. He owned a table, two chairs, a rope bed,
and three cracked Spanish bowls that Louis Valentine Butler had taken
from the Mercato. A decent year after Will's first wife died, Will jumped the
broomstick with Mistletoe, a comely girl of fifteen.
Fearing the deadly fevers, Low Country planters shunned their plantations
during the hot months. When Langston came out from the city to inspect
his crop, he arrived after daybreak and departed before dark.
Barefoot and shirtless, his son hunted, fished, and explored the tidal
marshes along the Ashley River. Young Rhett Butler was educated by alligators,
egrets, osprey, rice birds, loggerheads, and wild hogs. The boy knew
where the negro conjure man found his herbs and where the catfish nested.
Sometimes Rhett stayed away from Broughton for days on end, and if his
father visited during one of Rhett's absences, the elder Butler never asked
after his son.
Overseer Watling supervised the floodings and hoeings of the tender
rice plants. Watling determined when dike-burrowing muskrats must be
poisoned and the rice birds shot.
Although they were more resistant to fever than their white masters,
rice negroes worked knee-deep in a subtropical swamp, and inevitably some
sickened. In Broughton's dispensary, Overseer Watling's wife, Sarah, and
young Belle dosed victims with chinchona bark and slippery elm tea. The
white woman and her child helped Dollie deliver babies and salved the
backs of the men and women their husband and father had whipped.
Some negroes said Master Langston was less likely to pick up the bullwhip
than Boss Watling. "Master Langston ain't gonna get no work out of
a man laid up in the dispensary."
Others preferred Isaiah Watling. "Boss Watling, he hard all right. But
he don't lay no whip on you less'n he got to."
Young Master Rhett pestered his father's servants with practical
D O N A L D M c C A I C;
questions: Why were the trunk gates made of cypress? Why wasn't the rice
hoed after the harvest flow? Why was the seed rice winnowed by hand?
The negroes ate the fish and game Rhett brought and the white boy spent
Sundays, the negroes' day of rest, in the quarters. Rhett accompanied Will
on trunk inspections, and often at noontime the two shared a meal on the
When he felt the urge, Shadrach Watling visited the quarters after dark.
Usually, Watling sent the girl's family away: "Might be you could take a
meander down by the woods." Sometimes Shad gave the husband or father
a demijohn of popskull to while away the hour.
But Mistletoe, the trunk master's new wife, didn't want to fool with the
overseer's son, and when Shad Watling wouldn't leave his cabin, Will tossed
him into the street, a circumstance that delighted the other negroes.
When Langston Butler heard what Will had done, he explained to
Overseer Watling that negroes must not laugh at the Overseer's son, lest
they laugh at the Overseer next and ultimately at the Master himself.
Three hundred negroes lived on Broughton with a handful of whites,
some of them women. What prevented those negroes from rising up and
murdering those whites? Langston Butler told Isaiah Watling that revolt
could not be suppressed after negroes have begun muttering and sharpening
their hoes, their rice knives. Rebellion is quelled by crushing the first
defiant glance, the insolent whisper, the first disrespectful snicker.
"Will's a good nigger," Watling said.
"Your boy will do the punishing."
"Shadrach?" Watling's eyes were anthracite. "Have you been satisfied
with my work?"
"It has been satisfactory."
Watling bowed his head and muttered, "I got to tell you, Master
Langston. Will had just cause. My Shadrach . . . Shadrach ain't no account."
"But he's white," Master Langston replied.
The sky was unseasonably clear that August morning; the air was dead
Broughton Plantation's rice mill was brick; its winnowing house was
RHI;TT BUTLER'S PEOPLE
whitewashed clapboard. The dairy, negro houses, and infirmary were
tabby—cement of crushed oyster shells and lime. Tall and windowless,
with its thick iron-banded door, Broughton's meat house was as forbidding
as a medieval keep. Every Sunday morning, standing before this vault of
plentitude, Overseer Watling distributed the week's rations to the servants
shuffling past. "Thank you, Boss Watling." "We sure does thank you,
Isaiah Watling was the giver of all good things, as well as the source of
Broughton's whipping post was a blunt black cypress stub five feet six
inches high and eighteen inches in diameter. An iron ring was placed where
a man's wrists might be fastened.
Will had asked the young Master to intercede, and Rhett confronted
the overseer. "Watling, I am giving you an order!"
Isaiah Watling studied the boy as if he were something curious washed
in on the tide. "Young Butler, when you defied Master Butler to stay, I
asked him who was Master when he was off in town. Master Butler said I
was to follow his orders, that you weren't to give no orders. Now, young
Butler, the niggers is here to see justice done and to learn respect. Will's insolence
bought him two hundred."
"It'll kill Will. Damn it, Watling, it's murder."
Isaiah Watling cocked his head as if listening for something faint and
far away. "The nigger's your father's property. Very few of us, young Butler,
get to be our own men."
His son Shad's bullwhip coiled lazily before he popped a trumpet-vine
blossom off the well house. The negroes stood silently, men to the fore,
women and children behind. Tiny children clung to their mothers' shifts.
When Isaiah Watling led Will out of the meat house, the trunk master
blinked in the brightness. When the overseer tied Will's wrists, Will didn't
Rhett Butler had not yet come into his adult courage and could not
watch his friend be killed. When Watling bared Will's back, Mistletoe
fainted and Rhett bolted for the river, deaf to the whip crack and Will's
grunts, which became screams.
D O N A L D Mc C A IG
Rhett jumped into his skiff, loosed the mooring line, and let the river
take him away. A rainsquall descended and he got soaked through. His boat
went where the current willed. Rain drummed in the boy's ears and he
blinked rain from his eyelids.
Rhett Butler swore that when he was a man, he would never be helpless
Rain fell on the boy. Rain fell harder. Rhett couldn't see the bow of his
boat. Water lapped at its thwarts.
His sail exploded into tatters. He lost an oar. When a drifting cypress
trunk threatened to roll the skiff, he broke his other oar fending it off. He
inspected the stub as if, had he the wit, he might yet row with it. He bailed
until his arms ached. When he shouted to ease the pressure in his ears, the
wind snatched his shout away.
The river broached the trunks and flooded rice fields, and sometimes
Rhett's skiff was in the channel and sometimes scudding above what had
been acres of Carolina's finest golden rice.
Suddenly, as if he'd been washed into a different universe, the wind
and rain stopped. In the calm, Rhett's skiff drifted gently through
brightness at the tip of a whirling funnel that rose up, up into a heaven,
which was so dark blue, Rhett imagined he saw stars. He had heard about
the hurricano's eye. He never thought he'd see one.
The current bumped the waterlogged skiff against a jumbled shoreline
of uprooted, broken trees. Rhett tied his skiff to a branch before clambering
inland toward the sound of hammering.
As a young man, Thomas Bonneau had been freed by the master
who had fathered him. Thomas Bonneau's white father deeded his
son five acres of land on a low rise beside the river, where Thomas built a
modest tabby house, whose thick, homely walls had resisted previous
hurricanoes. Bonneau and a boy about Rhett's age were on the roof, nailing
"Look, Papa, yon's a white boy," the boy, Tunis, said.
The two slid to the ground and Thomas greeted the half-drowned
RHETT BUTLER'S PEOPLE
Rhett. "Come with us now, Young Master. These walls has sustained us
thus far. God grant they sustain us a mite longer."
Inside his one-room house, Thomas Bonneau's wife, Pearl, and two
younger children were piling trunks, fish traps, a chopping block, and
chicken coops onto a rickety mound to clamber onto the ceiling joists.
"It ain't hurricano's rain nor wind kills you," Bonneau explained as he
took his joist. "Ol' hurricano raises up a mighty tide what drowns you."
Tunis passed the youngest children to his father, who set them next to
him under his strong arm. When they all were astride a joist, Bonneau
spoke in a singsong: "And God said to Noah, 'The peoples is corrupt and so
I will raise a mighty flood. But you and your family gonna swim above the
flood. . . . ' " Whatever more he said was snatched away by the wind.
When it came, the storm surge crashed against the little tabby house
and forced the door. Water foamed beneath Rhett's dangling feet and the
joist he straddled vibrated between his thighs. Thomas Bonneau leaned his
head back and shut his eyes and the cords of his neck were taut with praising
That was the worst of it.
As all storms must, this storm ended, the waters receded, and as
ever after such storms, the sun illuminated a brilliant new world.
Thomas Bonneau said, "If I ain't mistook, that's a macaw in yon tree."
A bedraggled blue-and-yellow bird clung weakly to a leafless branch. "Lord
knows where he been blowed from."
They dragged the muddy trunks and broken fish traps outside and
Pearl Bonneau stretched a line to dry their clothes. Pearl wore her wet petticoat
while her dress dried; the others went naked.
Tunis and Rhett collected storm-beached fish while Thomas Bonneau
started a fire with the dry inner bark of a cedar tree.
When they were seated around the fire, turning fish on sticks, Thomas
Bonneau offered thanks to God for sparing his family and the Young
"I'm not the Young Master," the white boy said. "I'm Rhett."
D O N A L D M C C A IG
Ten days later, when Rhett returned to Broughton, Will had been buried
in the slave cemetery and Mistletoe had been sold South. Broughton
Plantation was miles of drowned, stinking rice plants.
Langston Butler was personally supervising a gang repairing breaks in
the main trunk while Watling's gang restored the interior trunks. Men
trundled wheelbarrels of fill; women and children emptied pails and buckets
in the breaches.
Rhett's father's boots were filthy and he hadn't shaved in days. His soft
hands were cracked and his fingernails were broken. Langston Butler greeted
his son, "We accounted you dead. Your mother is grieving."
"My mother has a tender heart, sir."
"Where have you been?"
"The free colored Thomas Bonneau saved me from the hurricane I
have been helping his family restore their homestead."
"Your duty was with your people."
Rhett said nothing.
His father ran his forearm across his sweaty forehead. "The crop is
lost," he said distantly. "A year's work destroyed. Wade Hampton asked me
to run for Governor, but now, of course . . ." Langston Butler looked into
his son's unforgiving eyes. "Sir, have you learned anything from the trunk
"Humility? Obedience? A proper deference to authority?"
"I have often heard you say, Father, that knowledge is power. I accept
Despite his obligations at Broughton, that same week Langston Butler
took his son to Charleston to begin acquiring the education that distinguishes
a Low Country gentleman.
Cathecarte Puryear was Charleston's most visible intellectual, and the
city took pride in him, as they might in any curiosity—a two-headed
calf or a talking duck. In Cathecarte's student years, he'd boarded beside
Edgar Poe at the University of Virginia, and, as everyone knows, poetry is
RllKTT BUTLFRS I'EOI'LF
Cathecarte Puryear's contentious essays in the Southern Literary Messenger
had twice produced challenges, which he had accepted, but on both
occasions, after declaiming his belief that affairs of honor were "designed
by the mentally unfit, for the mentally unfit," Cathecarte discharged his
pistol into the air. He was never challenged again. There is no honor—and
may be dishonor—calling out a man who will not return fire.
Cathecarte was president of the St. Cecilia Society, which sponsored uplifting
concerts and Charleston's most popular balls. Most of Charleston's
intellectuals were clergymen or, like the Unionist Louis Petigru, lawyers
by profession, but thanks to his deceased wife's considerable fortune,
Cathecarte Puryear never had to earn his bread. He tutored a few wellbred
young gentlemen because, as Cathecarte often explained, "noblesse
Eleanor Baldwin Puryear (d. 1836) was Cathecarte's sole poetic subject.
Philistines said exchanging Eleanor's handsome dowry for literary immortality
was a fool's bargain.
Aweary, preoccupied Langston Butler assessed his son for the prospective
tutor: "My eldest son is intelligent but defiant. The boy disregards
my orders and flouts those distinctions of rank and race that undergird our
society. Though Rhett reads, writes, and does sums, gentlemen would not
recognize my son as one of them."
Cathecarte beamed encouragement. "Every young man's mind is a 'tabula
rasa,' sir. We may impress upon that blank slate whatever we desire."
Langston smiled wearily. "We shall see, shan't we?"
After Langston left, the tutor said, "Sit down, young man. Do sit down.
You prowl like a caged beast."
In rapid succession, Cathecarte asked: "Aristotle taught which famous
general, young man? Please decline amare. Which British king succeeded
Charles the First? Explain the doctrine of separation of powers. Recite Mr.
Poe's 'The Raven,' Mr. Keats's 'La Belle Dame sans Merci.' "
After the silence became oppressive, Cathecarte smiled. "Young man,
apparently I know many things which you do not. Just what do you know?"
Rhett leaned forward. "I know why trunk gates are made of cypress.
D O N A L D M C C A I G
Everybody says the mother alligator eats her own babies, but she doesn't;
she totes 'em in her mouth. Conjure men take four different cures from the
jimsonweed. Muskrat dens always have one entrance below the water."
Cathecarte Puryear blinked. "You are a natural philosopher?"
The boy dismissed that possibility. "No, sir. I'm a renegade."
After that interview with Cathecarte Puryear, Rhett Butler climbed
steep stairs into the heat of an angular room whose window overlooked
Dirty clothes were strewn on one unmade bed and highly polished riding
boots rested on the pillow of the other.
Rhett unpacked his carpetbag, tossed the boots on the floor, and sat by
the window, watching the harbor. So many ships. What a vast place the
world was. He wondered if he would ever succeed at anything.
A half hour later, his roommate came clattering up the stairs. He was a
slight lad, whose long fingers nervously flicked pale hair off his forehead.
He lifted his boots and examined them suspiciously. "You're Butler, I suppose,"
"And you are?"
The lad drew himself up. "I am Andrew Ravanel. What do you make
"I don't make anything of that. Should I?"
"Well, I guess you'd better!"
When Andrew cocked his fists, Rhett hit him in the stomach. The
other boy slumped onto his bed, trying to catch his breath. "You shouldn't
have done that," he gasped, "You had no right. . . ."
"You were going to hit me."
"Well," Andrew Ravanel's smile was innocent as an angel's. "Well,
maybe I would. But maybe I wouldn't have."
In the next few months, Rhett understood how lonely he had been.
Andrew Ravanel was a city boy; Rhett had never lived where gaslights
flickered. Rhett looked at the practical side of things; Andrew was a
dreamer. Andrew was shocked by Rhett's indifference to rank: "Rhett, you
don't thank a servant for serving you; serving you is his reason for being."
RHETT BUTLER'S PEOPLE
Rhett excelled at mathematics and Andrew liked to show his friend off
by asking Rhett to add complex figures in his head. Rhett didn't know how
he could do it; he just could.
Andrew was an indifferent scholar so Rhett tutored him.
Cathecarte's other pupils were Henry Kershaw, a hulking seventeen-yearold
who spent his evenings on the town; Cathecarte's own son, Edgar Allan,
who was Henry Kershaw's acolyte; and John Haynes, heir to the Haynes
Shipping Company. John's father, Congress Haynes, approved Cathecarte
Puryear's pedagogy but not his good sense. Consequently, Congress's son
lived at home.
As night cooled the great port city, Rhett and Andrew would perch in
their dormer window, discussing duty, honor, and love—those great questions
every boy puzzles over.
Rhett didn't understand the bleak moods that sometimes overwhelmed
Andrew. Although Andrew was almost recklessly brave, trifles could prostrate
"But Cathecarte condescends to everybody," Rhett explained patiently.
"That's what he does. You must not pay him any mind."
Rhett could neither reason nor jolly Andrew out of his despair, but
since it seemed to help, Rhett sat quietly with Andrew through the darkest
Though Cathecarte Puryear railed against "planter philistines," he
never questioned Charleston's tradition that young gentlemen should
raise hell until they were safely married. Andrew's father, Colonel Jack Ravanel,
acquainted Rhett with spirits and escorted the boy on his fifteenth
birthday to Miss Polly's brothel.
When Rhett came downstairs, Old Jack grinned. "Well, young sir. What
do you think about love?"
"Love? Is that what it's called?"
After three years studying with Cathecarte Puryear, Rhett could do calculus,
read Latin (with a dictionary), knew the names of every English
monarch since Alfred, the fancies of Charleston's prettiest whores, and that
a straight never, never beats a flush.
D O N A L D M C C A K;
In the same year Texas annexation was debated in the United States
Senate, Cathecarte Puryear published his notorious letter. Why Cathecarte
was impelled to advance his opinions wasn't clear. Some thought he envied
poet Henry Timrod's growing fame; others said it was the rejection of
Cathecarte's poems by the selfsame Charleston Mercury that published his
scurrilous letter (bracketed with its editor's disclaimers).
"Nullification," Cathecarte Puryear wrote, "is stupendous folly; and
nullification's adherents are reckless fools. Can any sane man believe the
Federal government will permit a cabal of Carolina 'gentlemen' to determine
which Federal laws they might choose to obey and which they will
not? Some of these gentlemen are whispering the dread word 'secession.'
I trust that when Mr. Langston Butler and his friends finally commit suicide,
they will do so privately, without involving the rest of us in their
Although Rhett's father couldn't challenge Cathecarte Puryear—"the
villain has made a mockery of the code of honor"—Langston could and
did remove his son from Puryear's influence.
As their carriage rolled down King Street, Langston told Pvhett, "Senator
Wade Hampton has engaged a tutor for his children. Henceforth,
Hampton's tutor will instruct you too." He examined his son skeptically. "I
pray you are not already infected by Puryear's treasonous beliefs."
Rhett studied his father's sour, angry face and thought, He wants me to
be the man he is. Rhett jumped out of the carriage, darted behind a brewer's
dray, and disappeared down the street.
Thomas Bonneau laid down the net he'd been mending. "What you
doin' here, young man?"
Rhett's smile was tentative. "I had hoped I might be welcome."
"Well, you ain't. You's trouble."
Glasses dangling from one hand, Tunis came outdoors. He held The
Seaman's Friend m the other.
Desperately, Rhett pronounced, "That book has ketch rigging wrong."
Tunis rolled his eyes. "Daddy, I b'lieve young Master Butler sayin' he a
sailor. You reckon?"
RHETT BUTLER'S PEOPLE
Rhett wore a short blue jacket over a broadcloth shirt. His trousers were
so tight, he dared not touch his toes.
The Bonneaus were barefoot and Tunis's dirty canvas trousers were
belted with a rope.
Quietly, Rhett said, "I've nowhere else to go."
Tunis examined Rhett for a long time before he laughed, "Eight bushel
of oysters that book cost me and Young Master here says it's mistook."
Thomas Bonneau's cheeks filled and expelled a puff of air. "I expect I
gonna regret this. Sit yourself down and I'll show you how to mend a net."
The Bonneaus raked oyster banks below Morris Island and fished off
Sullivan's Island. Rhett rose with them hours before dawn, worked
with them, laughed with them, and one memorable Sunday when Thomas,
his wife, and the younger children were at church, Rhett and Tunis sailed
Thomas Bonneau's skiff down the coast all the way to Beaufort.
Young Rhett Butler had never imagined he could be so happy.
Every negro on the Ashley River knew about Thomas Bonneau's white
"son," but it was thirteen weeks before Langston Butler discovered Rhett's
whereabouts and Broughton's launch tied up at the Bonneaus' rickety
Langston Butler towered over Thomas Bonneau, "Many legislators
wish to exile Carolina's free coloreds or return them to slavery. That is my
view, as well. Should you interfere with my family again, I vow that you,
your wife, and your children will toil under Mr. Watling's lash."
On the long pull upstream to Broughton, Langston Butler didn't speak
to his son, and when they landed, he turned Rhett over to Isaiah Watling.
"He's a rice hand like any other. If he runs or disobeys, introduce him to
Watling assigned Rhett a cabin in the negro quarters. Its straw pallet
danced with fleas.
The stretch flow had been drained two weeks previously and the rice
was thriving. His first morning in the fields, the mosquitoes and gnats were
so thick, Rhett swallowed mouthfuls. Twenty minutes after sunrise, the
overheated air sucked his breath away.
D O N A L D M C C A IG
Thigh-deep in mud, he hoed as far as his arms could reach before, extracting
one leg at a time, he shifted to a new stance.
A big man on a big horse, Shadrach Watling watched from the levee.
At noon, the work gang paused for beans and cornmeal ladled from a
common pot. Since Rhett didn't have a bowl or spoon, he waited until another
man finished to borrow his.
It was ninety-five degrees that first afternoon and red and purple flashes
played across Rhett's eyes.
By custom, after a worker finished his allotted task, his time was his
own. By three o'clock some of the stronger men left the field and by five
o'clock only two middle-aged women and Rhett were still working. At
8:30, when Rhett was done, he and Shad Watling remained.
"Best watch for snakes." Shad grinned. "We lost a nigger in this patch
Rhett's delirium of working, eating, and working again was relieved by
fitful snatches of sleep. When Rhett did meet a water moccasin, he watched
indifferently as the snake slithered past his bare legs.
On his tall, bony mule, Overseer Watling visited each of his gangs. The
handle of the bullwhip hanging from his saddle bow was bleached from the
sweat of his hand.
Despite the heat, the overseer wore a black frock coat and his shirt was
buttoned to his chin. His wide-brimmed straw hat clasped his close-cropped
At dinnertime on Saturday, he beckoned to Rhett.
Watling had big ears, a big nose, long arms, big hands; his face was
lined with hard work and bitterness.
Watling laid his pale, empty gaze on Rhett. "When I was bankrupted
and come to Broughton, many stretch flows past, you was an ornery child,
but I believed there was hope for you. It is writ that by tribulations we shall
one day rise. Young Butler"—the overseer started his mule—"our day will
By the second week, Rhett worked as well as an old woman, and by the
end of the third he could keep up with a negro boy of ten.
In the evenings, Rhett slumped on a chopping block in the dooryard.
RHETT BUTLER'S PEOPLE
Although Broughton's negroes had been told to shun him, they slipped him
food from their own meager stores.
By September, young Rhett Butler was a full-task rice hand on Broughton
As Carolina's delegates were boarding the schooner for Baltimore and
the Democratic party's convention, Senator Wade Hampton took
Langston Butler aside to ask about a rumor that Langston's son was working
beside negroes in the rice fields.
"My son wants discipline."
Wade Hampton was a physical giant who owned 3,500 slaves. Now, he
Hampton explained the Democratic party could not afford a scandal.
"Sir, my son must have discipline."
So Senator Wade Hampton arranged Rhett Butler's appointment to
When Isaiah Watling rode into the quarters that evening, Rhett Butler
was sitting cross-legged in the doorway of his cabin, watching rice birds
wheel over the river.
Isaiah Watling dismounted. "Master Butler wants you in town," he
said. "Boat's waitin' at the landing." After a pause, Watling added, "For a
white boy, you was a pretty fair nigger."
In Charleston, Rhett was bathed and barbered. His clothing was altered
for his new musculature. Before all his insect bites had healed, Rhett
boarded a northbound schooner.
Young Rhett Butler stood at the rail as the schooner cleared Charleston
harbor. He should have been excited about his prospects, but he wasn't. His
body didn't feel right in gentleman's clothing. Fort Sumter grew smaller
and smaller, until it was a dot on the gray ocean.
Rosemary Penelope Butler
Rhett's sister, Rosemary, was four years old when Rhett left the Low
Country, and afterward, when the child tried to remember her
brother, no matter where she tried to force her thoughts, an image crept
into her mind: the wolf on the front of her fairy-tale book. The wolf was
long-snouted and scraggly, but how sly and what big teeth!
Date: 2015-04-20; view: 842